Teen Issues for NY/CT/NJ Parents for Bar/Bat Mitzvah Kids
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by Amy Wechsler August 27, 2008

As Jewish parents, you will take great pride in seeing your children grow in faith and knowledge, and in witnessing them as they become b’nai mitzvah.  If you have a son or daughter approaching this religious rite of passage, you might notice that he or she is a bundle of nerves.  The tween and teen years are difficult for most, and a monumental event like this can certainly add stress. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to ensure that your child’s path to this milestone is as smooth as possible. 

   As both a dermatologist and a psychologist, I am fascinated by the mind-beauty connection.  In my dermatological practice, I am constantly reminded of the impact stress has on our bodies. When it comes to how we feel internally and look externally, stress levels make a world of difference. Teaching your children how to manage anxiety at an early age will serve as one of life’s greatest lessons for them. Encourage them to work on eliminating stress every day so that it doesn’t build up and leave them overwhelmed.  Share these tips to help them get on the right track:

•    Have a wind-down routine: Take a bath, read a book, take a walk or run with your iPod, or practice deep breathing.
•    Create a schedule: Organize your days, weeks and months on a calendar so juggling school, sports, Hebrew classes and party planning runs like clockwork.
•    You are not alone: Remind yourself that teenage years are tough, but everyone else is in the same boat.  It’s important not to feel alone when you’re particularly down, nervous or stressed — even your favorite role model has dealt or deals with homework, friends, cliques and siblings.
•    Be yourself. Parents and grandparents have high expectations but they don’t (or at least shouldn’t!) expect perfection, just that you do your best. Realize that everyone knows you are still a kid even though it is a religious rite of passage into adulthood.
•    Communicate!  Whether you disagree with your parents’ view of how to celebrate your bat or bar mitzvah, or feel that you need a bit more clarification from a teacher, address them in a calm and respectful way to share your feelings.  
•    Prepare, prepare, prepare. Cramming at the last minute is a surefire way to increase anxiety.  Take your time and try to incorporate studies into other activities: practice with a friend while you walk to school, or download your haftarah onto your iPod so you can learn while on the go.

   No one can be her best unless she feels her best and, unfortunately, confidence levels are often at an all time low during the preteen and teenage years.  Our bodies go through tremendous, and sometimes awkward, changes; we feel pressure to keep up with peers, we aren’t sure just who we are yet, and so on.  Make an effort to build your child’s self-esteem.  Encourage him to exercise; it not only releases endorphins, which make you feel better naturally, but it can also help to improve posture, tone muscles and lose weight – all confidence boosters.  Remind your child of his talents and strengths and advise him to do the same for himself when he is feeling low. Picking up a new hobby or learning more about a topic of interest also strengthens self-worth.

   Address your child’s physical concerns, such as acne, scarring or unwanted hair, as there are solutions for nearly all such issues.  Opt for treatments to be used at home or administered at your dermatologist’s office – and remember to allow for enough time to get it all done before the big day.

   Tweens and teens constitute a large part of my patient base and one of the most common concerns is acne.  As hormone levels rise and bodies change, skin reacts. And the stresses associated with teen life can be a contributing factor. For some teens, it’s an occasional pimple.  For others, it is acne that is characterized by whiteheads, blackheads, and pus-filled pimples. Over-the-counter acne treatments containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid will most likely do the trick.  Be sure that your child doesn’t try and handle the problem by picking or popping pimples as that can cause scarring and discoloration or create additional pimples. If the condition doesn’t improve in three or four weeks, visit a dermatologist.  Dermatologists can treat acne with professional-strength acne products, medication and in-office procedures such as Isolaz and laser treatments. For those “day of” pimples, run a washcloth under hot water, and soak the pimple till the cloth is cool, then apply topical acne medicine. If you repeat this process two to three times a day, you may stop an outbreak.

   Another common issue is oily skin. Although oily skin and acne often go hand in hand, this isn't always the case. Some teens suffer from oily skin alone. If the complexion is oily but void of breakouts, there are several treatment options. Topical treatments containing alcohol or witch hazel work to “soak up” the oil; blotting papers (sheets of treated paper) are designed to absorb oil when touched to the face. Professional laser treatments, chemical peels and prescriptions like Retin-A or Differin work very well. They actually interact with the oil glands to cause them to be less active. What your child shouldn’t do is wash his/her face excessively, trying to get rid of the oil. The “squeaky clean” feeling people get from using soaps is derived from stripping the fatty oils from the skin, and is more harmful than good. Instead, use a gentle cleanser and wash no more than twice a day.

   Excessive sweating is also an issue many teens face. The problem can result from two distinct conditions. The first is caused by stress, with excess sweating most often occurring under the arms. For this situation, all you need is a maximum-strength antiperspirant that can reduce perspiration output. If over-the-counter antiperspirants don't seem to help, a doctor can prescribe medical-strength products. If heavy sweating occurs on a regular basis, your child may be experiencing what is call "hyperhidrosis." This condition is characterized by excessive sweating on the palms, soles and underarms, and sometimes, the face. Treatment for this includes minimally invasive surgical treatments that target the sweat glands, as well as Botox.
   Here are some other helpful tips:

• Lack of sleep takes its toll mentally and psychically, so be sure your child is getting ample quality sleep. Enforce a lights-out policy at the same time each night. Adhering to a schedule is vital to healthy sleep patterns.  Ensure that televisions are turned off, too.
• Monitor homework schedules and, whenever possible, be sure assignments are completed immediately after school or activities.  Work done late at night is usually not completed to the best of one’s ability and it cuts into sleep time.
• Be sure your child is getting enough exercise.  If they are not on a sports team, have them do something active such as swimming, running or walking on a regular basis. 

   Finally, remind your son or daughter to enjoy this exciting time. Encourage them to talk to you or older relatives about personal bar/bat mitzvah experiences.  Also, push them to focus on giving back somehow, perhaps by donating a portion of the gift money they receive to a specific charity or group with whom they relate.